Silver brightens the holiday Home: The soft glow of this precious metal provides glamour without gaudiness.


After 17 years as design director at Tiffany, John Loring should know a thing or two about silver.

But when Loring speaks about silver, he's not just talking sterling. And when he waxes rhapsodic about platinum, don't assume he's referring to the precious metal.

For Loring, the color silver is a way of life, uniquely American, that encompasses everything from movie-star blondes like Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow to streamlined locomotives, steel skyscrapers and the hot-plate special at the local diner.

There's a good reason why silver is showing up more often in home decor, too, on everything from metallic fabrics and mercury-glass candlesticks to brushed aluminum bath accessories and polished pewter barware. Silver is at once glamorous and utilitarian. It conjures images of Hollywood and the Industrial Age. It is less regal than gold, more democratic.

It's easy to start incorporating a little silver into your life, especially at Christmas. Unlike gold, which has "Byzantine connotations," silver is hard to overdo, Loring says. Any amount tends to look restrained and correct. Even a silver vase complements, rather than overwhelms, the beauty of the flowers it contains.

For a refreshingly crisp alternative to the usual green-and-red scheme, try hanging a simple wreath of greenery studded with silver Christmas balls and silver-painted leaves on the front door. Amass a collection of silver-toned or mercury-glass candlesticks on a mantel and watch them shimmer. Or sprinkle a tabletop with silver glitter and fill a bowl with simple silver and gold glass ornaments.

Also, don't hesitate to break your mother's rule and mix silver and gold on the holiday dinner table. When it comes to setting a table, the old standards no longer apply. A silver charger, platinum-edged plate and stainless-steel flatware look perfectly presentable paired with gold glass goblets and linens trimmed in gold lame.

Peri Wolfman, owner of the New York home emporium Wolfman-Gold & Good Co., says the trend in housewares is moving away from the gold of past seasons to silver and steel tones.

"People have gone a little more contemporary in their homes," she says, "and a little slicker."

Slick, maybe. Cold, never. Some of the newest silver looks have a brushed or matte finish. Think of the bygone elegance of 1930s hotel lobbies or the cool glamour of a Ralph Lauren club chair upholstered in silver-toned leather -- not the glitzy Mylar of the '60s and '70s, Loring says. "That has disappeared, and please don't revive it."

Wolfman suggests using silver lavishly in holiday decorations, draping silver wire ribbon like a garland on the tree, wrapping it around white napkins and crystal glasses, or weaving it into an otherwise austere grapevine wreath. For fun, tie silver-toned flatware on the wreath and hang it in a breezy spot where the forks, knives and spoons can tinkle like Christmas bells.

Loring, whose new book, "A Tiffany Christmas" (Doubleday, $60), features silver on almost every page, advocates using yards of silver lame to turn your holiday table into a shimmering winter lake.

Galvanized sheet metal -- silver's country cousin -- also provides great fodder for rustic decorating. A large galvanized bucket makes a humble, but homey, tree stand. Snip thin-gauge sheet metal into moons, stars and other shapes and hang them on the tree for a down-home Christmas. Outside, string miniature galvanized lanterns holding votives (available from home furnishings catalogs) from tree branches or along a fence to greet late-arriving guests.

For many years, no American table was properly dressed without (at the very least) a silver Revere bowl and a pair of silver candlesticks. These days, the rules are more relaxed. A festive table can include a mixture of family heirlooms and flea-market finds.

By the same token, vintage mercury glass -- sometimes considered the poor man's silver -- is becoming highly collectible. Mercury glass was made by pouring a thin coat of silver between two layers of blown glass. The blown-glass technique allowed the pieces to be fashioned into a variety of shapes, from bowls and vases to candlesticks and compotes.

Because of the layering effect, mercury glass also has a unique depth and luster valued by collectors. And it is easier to care for than sterling or silver plate since the silver is sealed inside glass and doesn't tarnish.

Because the original 19th-century pieces have become so difficult to find, several companies have revived the technique of making mercury glass and are selling reproductions. Pottery Barn offers a set of three mercury-glass candlesticks for $49 in its Christmas catalog.

Pub Date: 12/08/96

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